Throughout Thursday night and into the early hours of Friday morning the vuvuzela could be heard sporadically much as it has been for the last few months close to where I’m staying in Cape Town. Walking the brief distance to work just before 8am you really could feel it was here after such a long wait for this country and its’ people with most of those I passed wearing their colours and carrying the obligatory vuvuzela. The atmosphere built in work over the course of the morning with the plasmas showing the build up to the game making it hard to focus on work. Popping out of the office at lunchtime you could sense something special was about to happen ; there’s always a buzz in any city lucky enough to host a big international club or country game. Watching the opening ceremony the pride of the country was clear almost two decades after South Africa was shunned by the international sporting community ; this is South Africa’s time and it will deliver a truly spectacular and successful World Cup despite some of the negativity from outside the country in the run up to the tournament.
I finished up around 2:45pm and headed from the Southern Suburbs into the city-centre. There was almost no traffic as most people were already in the Fan Parks or the city’s bars and restaurants gearing themselves up for the Bafana Bafana game ; although some office workers were on the balconies of their offices bedecked in yellow & enjoying the pre-match sun . The sun was shining and the ‘Mother City’s’ panaroma seemed even more stunning than normal. We got to a tapas bar in plenty of time for the kick-off. It was a quality venue for watching football – comfy sofas , big screens , good sound and not too packed so you could get to the bar & toilet without any hassle ; in fact it was as good as watching it at home with the atmosphere of a bar. Result . Given Mexico were playing it would be rude not too have a couple of cheeky tequilas!
Mexico ranked at number 17 in the world and are no mugs ; I thought they could present the South Africans with their trickiest game in the group. Avoid defeat here and a nation’s optimism will build even further carrying the team through. South Africa began nervously but the Mexicans failed to capitalise. Then in the 55th minute a bolt from the blue with Siphiwe Tshabalala scoring a goal of supreme quality ; Fernando Torres couldn’t have hit it any sweeter! Cue chaos. Mexico equalised which their dominance deserved but the ‘Mzansi’ heroes could have nicked it at the end.
Leaving the bar around 6pm to head to Greenpoint darkness was falling on the city. Vuvuzelas were everywhere. The atmosphere in the city had gone up a fair few notches since earlier in the day. The walk to the ground was fairly rushed meaning you didn’t have time to take it all in. It was a blur of nationalities and colour or was that the tequila kicking in! I got myself a Uruguay scarf along the way to show my solidarity for the’ Charrúas’ ; it worked so well a fella from Chile thought I was Uruguayan. The French had no reply to chants of ‘Thierry Henry you’re having a laugh’ or jibes about his handball. I’m disappointed that such a great player and a seemingly decent fella will be remembered this way. His respect for Liverpool FC and its’ fans has helped endear him to me before that incident. I greeted the Uruguayans as lost brothers & wished them luck. I bumped into a few USA fans along the way and wished them every success in attempting to repeat 1950 the next day . Outside the ground there were a few Irish lads with tricolours with ‘Henry Le Cheat , ‘Football not Handball’ and ‘Anybody but France’. The arrangements matched any big game I’ve been to in Europe and thankfully there was no ID check on the name on the ticket as mine was purchased via a fairly convoluted route.
Getting my first glimpse inside a major football stadium still excites me as much as when I first visited Anfield as an 11 year old. Make no mistake this is a special special stadium ; it just lacks the history & heritage that sweats from every pore of the likes of a Camp Nou. After almost 30 years of watching Liverpool at home and in Europe and a few Republic games thrown and being unable to drink in my seat/spec on the Kop or on occasions having the game moved to a daft kick off time with no drink at all in I was surprised to be able to drink a beer in my seat at the game. The price was almost double normal prices of course. I enjoyed the rare privilege of being treated as a decent human being who beer wouldn’t turn into a rampaging hooligan but the incongruity still grates with me ; as FIFA’s brewing marketing partner Budweiser have to cash in on ‘Woza 2010′
The climb to my seat in the skies took out of me but the view of the pitch was superb. Despite any lingering resentment and a feeling Ireland should be here ‘La Marseillaise’ made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. I was sat next to a local couple who thought France were playing in blue. There were some empty seats in the ground especially the pricier ones and I’m not convinced by FIFA’s assertion that 98% of the tickets have been sold for this tournament. And whilst I was sat next to a couple along for the ‘World Cup experience’ who had no clue the real football supporters in this country were literally locked out ; there’s something wrong there……
The game itself was fairly dull as often happens with opening group matches but the atmosphere inside the ground more than made up for it.
Next up for me is the Netherlands v Cameroon which should be an absolute cracker!